South Africa's Lesson for the Rest of Africa

Article excerpt

IMAGES of Africa never fail to stir powerful emotions, be they joy or pity. This has never been more true than over the past three weeks when the news shifted from change and reconciliation in South Africa to death and mayhem in Rwanda.

Even for hardened Africa observers, the past month has been a roller-coaster ride. One watched endless lines of black South Africans wait for hours to vote, and then saw rooms full of butchered Rwandan women and children and endless droves of panic-stricken refugees. It seemed that just as the continent was taking a huge step forward, its "tribal" past was pulling it back down. That, however, is not quite accurate.

Africa's struggle between good and evil is not unique. But the portrayal of that struggle and coverage of the continent remains simplistic. Either this is due to laziness or it is the result of the low priority given to the continent and the need to sell the story inside news organizations. The need for adequate analysis of Africa, however, has been raised significantly with South Africa's emergence from the politics of apartheid. There is a great expectation that this emergence will lead southern Africa, if not the whole continent, up the road of recovery.

For those who want to end Africa's cycle of political crises, the rest of Africa must be educated about South Africa's great lesson - building, consolidating, and protecting the "middle ground."

As important as the April 27 elections were, more important was the manner in which the vote was reached: through compromise, negotiation, and the presence of a strong network of groups and organizations who were not political parties, but who could not and would not be ignored.

The role played by civil society in South Africa was of critical importance. This society included independent press, human rights groups, civic associations, and trade unions. These groups maintained resistance to apartheid and kept the international community aware of the need for continued pressure. When the negotiating process began, these groups helped create the middle ground necessary to keep the transition moving forward. …